A Second House at Stöng Found in Archaeological Dig

icelandic farmhouse stöng

A second house has been unearthed at the Stöng archaeological site, Morgunblaðið reports.

Stöng, located in Þjórsárdalur valley in South Iceland, is one of the best-known farms from the time of settlement. Today, it is home to a heritage museum which features both a recreation of a settlement-era farmstead and church.

Oddgeir Isaksen, archaeologist at the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland, stated to Morgunblaðið: “There were plans in place to repair the shelter over the ruins at Stöng and to set up an observation platform at the eastern end of the excavation site, so an archaeological investigation was necessary.”

During these exploratory excavations, a building was found at the eastern end of the excavation site. The building is dated as being contemporary with the eruption of Hekla, one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes, in 1104. The 1104 Hekla eruption is believed to have caused significant damage to the area.

Oddgeir continued: “This confirms what has long been believed, that there was a settlement here from around 950 until 1104. There have been significant volcanic eruptions here; it has been a heavily affected area, and not very habitable afterward.”

The excavation is expected to be completed soon, at which point experts will need to decide how to best preserve the ruins. Plans are currently to incorporate the ruins into the current exhibit at Stöng.

 

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Is there any evidence that Iceland had human habitation prior to the arrival of Europeans?

Stöð Stövarfjörður Viking Age longhouse excavation

The conventional date given for the settlement of Iceland is 874, plus or minus a couple of years. In terms of evidence of human activity before settlement, yes there may be. But don’t let your imagination run away from you: there are several caveats.

To speak first of historical evidence, there are references in medieval Icelandic literature to people called the “Papar,” an Icelandic name likely referring to the pope.  This name refers to a group of Irish monks who supposedly settled parts of Iceland, including the island of “Papey.” There is no archaeological evidence of their dwellings, only some historical and literary references in the medieval material. In Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), these mysterious monks were said to have left behind relics like books and croziers, departing the country upon the arrival of the Norse settlers. While there are many examples of Irish monks from the early medieval period looking for isolation in remote environments, some scholars have more recently interpreted the Papar as a literary trope, by which medieval Christian Icelanders tried to re-write Christianity into their pagan past.

There is however some limited evidence for human activity in Iceland before the traditional date of settlement.

Around 871 (again, plus or minus a couple of years), a volcanic eruption spread a layer of tephra across much of the island, which archaeologists now refer to as the settlement layer. Any archaeological evidence for activity in Iceland before settlement would necessarily need to be found under this layer.

Recent excavations in Stöðvarfjörður in East Iceland have been found underneath the settlement layer, for instance. The excavations, led by archaeologist Bjarni Einarsson, have unearthed one of the oldest and largest longhouses in all of Iceland, in addition to a rich hoard of jewellery and coins. Radio carbon dating places these structures decades prior to the traditional settlement date, though it is worth noting that radio carbon dating always has a margin of error. Still, its presence beneath the settlement layer seems to definitively place it some time prior to 874.

Bjarni has advanced the theory that prior to settlement, Iceland was dotted by seasonal hunting camps, where Norwegians might have set up summer bases for hunting whale and walrus. Such seasonal hunting camps were common in other lands known to Scandinavian seafarers, such as in Greenland and L’Anse aux Meadows, the short-lived Viking settlement in the New World. It may have been the case that prior to the migration of Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries, seafarers may have known of Iceland and even spent time there prior to their migration.

To summarize: there is definitely evidence, but maybe not proof, of human activity in Iceland prior to settlement. While impossible to prove (at the moment), it is a fun possibility to think about!

 

Samherji Tax Audit Concludes with Settlement

Þorsteinn Már Samherji

Samherji has reached an ISK 230 million ($1.6 million / €1.5 million) settlement with the Directorate of Tax Investigations in Iceland, RÚV reports. The audit into the company’s books is, therefore, considered complete, although another investigation into alleged bribery and money laundering in Namibia is still undergoing.

Two cases concluded via settlement

In a press release published last week, Samherji announced that an investigation launched by the Directorate of Tax Investigations (DTI) in Iceland into two companies within the Samherji Group has concluded with a settlement. The investigation was opened following revelations made by the investigative news programme Kveikur in 2019, RÚV notes.

According to the settlement, Samherji and another related company, Sæból, have been made to pay approximately ISK 214 million ($1.5 million / €1.4 million) plus interest and penal interest as a result of the DTI’s reassessment. Samherji will also pay a non-criminal fine of ISK 15 million ($105,000 / €97,000).

Settlement means confidentiality

Experts interviewed by RÚV stated that a settlement means that the case will remain a private matter between Samherji and the Directorate of Tax Investigations and will not go to court, where additional facts concerning the audit could become public.

In the aforementioned press release, Samherji noted that the district attorney’s office has dropped criminal charges against the companies and their employees and confirmed that neither the managers nor the employees of the group have been guilty of criminal offences in relation to the audit.

District Prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson confirmed to RÚV that the tax side of the office’s investigation into Samherji had been transferred to the tax authorities, which is why the district prosecutor’s investigation into Samherji’s books has been completed. He noted, however, that the office’s investigation into alleged bribery and money laundering by Samherji in Namibia is still under investigation and that that investigation is well advanced.

RÚV was unable to reach Þorstein Már Baldvinsson, CEO of Samherji, following the company’s press release, and when the media outlet requested numerical data concerning the case, a representative for the company referred to the press release. Bryndís Kristjánsdóttir, Director of Tax Investigations, has yet to respond to RÚV’s requests for an interview.

An unusually heated discussion

Samherji’s press release quotes CEO Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, who maintains that the DTI took the initiative to conclude the investigation with a settlement:

“In these cases, a thorough investigation was carried out on all operations within the Samherji group. The company collaborated with integrity with the tax authorities and provided all requested documents. It should be noted that the Director of Tax Investigations took the initiative to end the cases amicably. There has been an unusually heated discussion about our company and our people, both in the media and in Parliament. It is, therefore, a great relief to be able to clear away serious accusations with the confirmation of official institutions. The key point here is that the cases are now over without any lawsuits being filed against the company or any individual.”

Excavation in Seyðisfjörður Unearths Jewelry from Earliest Period of Settlement

seyðisfjörður archaeology

Archaeologists in Seyðisfjörður have excavated jewelry that dates from 940 – 1100, just after the initial settlement of Iceland. Notably, one of the beads found in the excavation even bears the colours of the Icelandic national flag.

Remarkably well-preserved structures in Seyðisfjörður

Archaeological digs have been underway in Seyðisfjörður, a fishing village in the East Fjords of Iceland, since 2020. Due to the high slopes of the valley, Seyðisfjörður is subject to land slides, and local authorities plan to build defensive barriers to protect the village, which has suffered damage in recent years. However, these same land slides have also preserved archaeological sites in the region particularly well. Archaeologists have been called in to perform exploratory digs where the defensive barriers will be erected, and have found remarkably intact manmade structures and artifacts such as game pieces and pearls.

The most recent discoveries are centered around the farmstead where Bjólfur, a settler named in Landnámabók, is believed to have had his farmstead. Significant finds at this site have included the remains of a man, a horse, a spear, and a boat. Archaeologists have been able to date the site with a fair amount of accuracy, given tephra layers from eruptions, and land slide layers.

A unique bead

The artifact that has generated the most interest by far has been a bead which coincidentally has the colours of the Icelandic flag: blue, white, and red.

Ragnheiður Traustadóttir, an archaeologist and director of the team, has stated to RÚV that the find has caused quite the stir on social media, even causing some to claim a more recent provenance.

However, Ragnheiður has stated that it is certainly from the period 940 – 1100, given that it was found under known tephra and land slide layers.

“It will be interesting to put this in context with the four mounds we dug up last year,” she said to RÚV.  “There is a unique opportunity to look at the history of Seyðisfjörður from the second half of the tenth century until the eleventh century.”

Some twenty archaeologists are currently at work excavating in Seyðisfjörður. The field season is expected to last through the middle of August, and continue next year.

 

Nude Man in Nova Ad Strikes Out-of-Court Settlement

Diving board

A man who filed a lawsuit after having appeared nude in a Nova advertisement has settled the dispute out of court, Vísir reports. “The matter has been resolved, and all parties are satisfied,” the man’s lawyer stated.

“Something to do with a watch?”

On November 3, 2021, the Icelandic telecommunications company Nova premiered an ad for its new smart-watch service, Úrlausn.

The alleged aim of the service – profit-motive notwithstanding – was to encourage the eternally hunched-over populace to spend less time gazing into the abyss of their smartphones and more time … staring down at their watches.

The messaging may have been lost on many viewers whose eyeballs were too busy pinballing from one sex organ to the next to accurately identify any deftly-placed products.

Second and third thoughts

Cynicism aside, the ad was widely considered a refreshing and bold celebration of the unadorned human anatomy in all its various shapes and sizes (and in some wonderfully awkward circumstances too).

But not everyone was in on the celebration.

Among those who found fault with all the gratuitous nudity was a man who voluntarily contributed to the gratuitous nudity himself. Having unveiled himself, the man experienced second thoughts about his involvement in the production.

After airing his reservations to the ad agency, Brandenburg, the man maintains that he received written confirmation from the producers that he would not appear naked in the ad. But appear he did.

He went on to file suit against the ad agency, demanding compensation to the tune of ISK seven million, having suffered significant emotional distress (a curious subplot, given that the ad also aimed to advocate for emotional hygiene and “body positivity”).

Separating sincerity and subterfuge

Despite not being directly involved in the filming of the ad, Nova lamented the man’s plight, adding that it had explicitly requested participants willing to appear in the nude.

In a public statement, Margrét Tryggvadóttir – Nova’s Master of Ceremonies – wrote that the company had “consistently worked to promote mental wellness, and having received word of his distress, immediately pulled versions of the ad featuring the man.”

Nova subsequently announced that it would do its utmost to support the man, whether such assistance involved “paying for sessions with a psychologist or something else.”

All’s well that ends well

Yesterday, Vísir reported that an out-of-court settlement had been reached. Sævar Þór Jónsson, the man’s lawyer, confirmed that the case had been dropped.

In a characteristically lawyerly response, Sævar stated that he was “unable to comment on the details of the settlement,” but added that “the matter had been resolved, and all parties were satisfied.”

“Which is good.”

Icelandic State Acknowledges Fair Trial Violations in Banking Collapse Convictions

The Icelandic state has acknowledged that five Icelanders who were sentenced in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse did not receive a fair trial. The European Court of Human Rights was set to rule on the five cases this morning but has struck the applications out of its list of cases as a result of friendly settlements reached between the Icelandic state and the defendants.

According to a press release from the ECHR, the Icelandic state will pay Sigurjón Þorvaldur Árnason, Ívar Guðjónsson, Sigurþór Charles Guðmundsson, Margrét Guðjónsdóttir and Karl Emil Wernersson €12,000 each in damages and cover any costs incurred. In light of the state’s acknowledgement, the applicants have the possibility of applying to reopen their cases.

The cases concern the applicants’ criminal convictions related to the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath in Iceland. They were convicted for a variety of financial offences, including abuse of power and negligence of duties related to their high-level positions in the banking industry. The applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on various dates in 2016 to 2018.

Relying on Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial), the applicants complained of the manner in which the Supreme Court of Iceland overturned or partially overturned their acquittals, or, in Sigurjón and Ívar’s cases, various aspects of the criminal proceedings against them.

Archaeologists Search for First Settlement in Seyðisfjörður

An archaeological dig is currently underway in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland, where researchers hope to find dwellings built by the the fjord’s first settlers. RÚV reports that the excavation is centred in an area where the first settlers were often beset by mudslides and avalanches, as current residents are indeed still today.

One of the deadliest avalanches in Icelandic history occurred at Mt. Bjólfur in Seyðisfjörður in 1885. Twenty-four people lost their lives in the event. Avalanche guards are currently being erected on the mountain, but first, researchers are examining the area for archaeological remains that could well date back to the settlement era. A previous investigation in 1998 gave archaeologists reason to believe that there might be artefacts or ruins buried there.

Screenshot RÚV

Mudslide before 1477

More than 20 exploratory trenches have been dug in Seyðisfjörður this summer in search of these ancient settlements. These trenches show clear traces of a great mudslide that fell atop human habitations. By analysing the tephra layers, archaeologists have been able to determine that the mudslide occurred sometime after 1362 but before 1477. Employees of the Icelandic Met Office had discovered evidence of this historical landslide in 2018, but it’s only now clear how big it actually was.

“It seems to have been at least 250 metres [820 ft] and in the thickest spots, it’s at least a metre [3 ft] and there are big boulders in it,” explained Rannveig Þórhallsdóttir, the archaeologist who is overseeing the dig. “It’s remarkable, you can really picture the natural disaster that occurred here. And it seems to be on top of a human habitation, so that’s really interesting. We’ve also found three buildings that we’ll excavate next summer. We’re curious to see whether we’ll find evidence of the first settlement in Seyðisfjörður, but all signs point to us doing so.”

Two of the buildings are near Fjörður, a settlement era farm, while the third is in the northern part of the area. Preliminary results from tephra analyses done on-site indicate that the buildings could have been built either between 940 and 1160, or at least before 1477. Human habitations that might date back to the 12th century have also been found at a depth of 110 cm [3 ft] under a mudslide in nearby hayfields.

Modern lessons

Evidence of a large avalanche has also been found. “A lot of people died in that avalanche and houses collapsed,” continued Rannveig. “One of the houses we’ll examine next summer [collapsed], but the stone walls remain. The woodwork [collapsed], but people in that house survived. So to some extent, we’re also examining traces of the avalanche of 1885 and the effect it had on the settlement.”

Rannveig sees a lesson for the modern era in the archaeological dig. “It’s great that three large avalanche guards are being erected above Seyðisfjörður precisely because we’re can see in black and white how important it is that we protect the places we live.”

 

Viking Age Excavation Could Rewrite the Story of Iceland’s Settlement

Stöð Stövarfjörður Viking Age longhouse excavation

A Viking Age excavation in East Iceland is revealing a more nuanced history of the settlement of Iceland, involving seasonal settlements, wealthy longhouses, and walrus hunting long before the island was settled permanently. The site, known as Stöð and located in Stöðvarfjörður fjord, shows human presence in Iceland decades before AD 874, the accepted date for when Iceland was permanently settled.

One of the Largest Longhouses Found in Iceland

Bjarni F. Einarsson, leader of the excavation at Stöð, took the first digs at the location in the autumn of 2015. The excavation is ongoing but has already produced findings that illuminate the early history of Iceland. “We are currently excavating what is certainly a Viking-Age farmstead, dating back to 860-870 AD according to my estimate.” The longhouse is among the largest found in Iceland, 31.4m (103ft) long. “It is also the richest longhouse ever excavated in Iceland. We have found 92 beads and 29 silver objects, including Roman and Middle-Eastern coins.” The bead horde at Stöð is twice as large as the next two largest found in Iceland combined. In fact, it is one of the very largest ever found at a Viking-Age site in all of Scandinavia.

Older Longhouse Predates Settlement By Decades

Even more interestingly, the farm is built on the ruins of an even older longhouse. “It was built inside the fallen walls of the older structure that appears to have been huge, at least 40m (131ft) long.” To put this in context, the largest longhouses found in Scandinavia measure 50m (164ft). “It also appears to be at least as old as the oldest structures we have previously excavated in Iceland. Based on radiocarbon dating and other evidence, I estimate this structure dates to around 800 AD.”

Read More: Buried – Digging Deeper Into the Myth of Iceland’s Settlement

Bjarni’s theory is that the older longhouse was a seasonal hunting camp. He believes such camps were operated in other parts of Iceland as well. “We have found several sites in Iceland where we can confirm human presence before the year 874. The site on Aðalstræti in downtown Reykjavík is one. Another is Vogur in Hafnir [Southwest Iceland].”

Early Colonisers Likely Hunted Walrus

Seasonal camps would have played a vital role in the settlement of Iceland, extracting valuable resources and thus financing further exploration and settlement. Recent paleoecological research suggests the valuable resource that drew them there was walrus ivory. Walrus ivory was in high demand in Europe in the ninth century, as were the animals’ blubber and hides. It was also valuable: a single walrus tusk was worth the annual wages of one farm worker.

In 2019, DNA analyses and radiocarbon dating of walrus tusks found in Iceland revealed that they belonged to a previously unknown subspecies of the Atlantic walrus. The Icelandic walrus appears to have lived along Iceland’s shores for thousands of years, from at least 7000 BC, only to disappear shortly after the arrival of settlers.

Seasonal Settlements Propelled Westward Expansion

Seasonal hunting camps like the one in Stöðvarfjörður were a major feature of the westward expansion of the Viking world across the Atlantic, according to Bjarni. “The Viking settlement in Newfoundland, at L’Anse aux Meadows, was a camp of this type, very similar to the one at Stöð, operated by Icelandic or Greenlandic chiefs. The latest research shows it was in operation for 150 years before being abandoned.”